Bioethics and vulnerability: recasting the objects of ethical concern

Emory Law Journal
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Emory Law Journal, 2018, 67 (6), pp. 1207 - 1233
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Bioethics & vulnerability - Final Agreed - May 2018.pdfAccepted Manuscript Version321.83 kB
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Mainstream bioethics has long been challenged for its focus on the technological developments of biomedicine and principles of individual ethics. It is argued that the focus on these particular objects, and the delisting of the social context within which the ethical is constructed and experienced, limits the extent to which bioethics provides a contesting counter-weight to modern biomedicine. In response, this Article promotes Martha Fineman’s vulnerability theory as a new framework for bioethical deliberation. Fineman’s foundational concern with the embodied and embedded experience of being human puts the social at the heart of analytical enquiry. Further, a focus on the institutional structures within which we are all embedded provides a framework for assessing state responsiveness to its embedded citizens. Recognizing that mainstream bioethics has historically resisted the incorporation of other frameworks, this Article argues that the current turn to the social in the life sciences provides an important new context within which we might successfully reimagine bioethics and its objects of ethical concern.
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